A large number of loud, rowdy and — in some cases — costumed Penn students packed the Palestra to take in Friday night's Big 5 Tournament opener against Villanova as the Quakers looked to kick off their final Ivy League tune-up with a bang.
However, Villanova was too much to handle on Friday evening, as the Wildcats dispatched the hosting Quakers in straight sets (25-20, 25-18, 25-21) to hand Penn its sixth straight loss after a 2-0 start to the season.
Junior outside hitter Lauren Carpenter led the way for the Wildcats (6-7) with a whopping 18 kills, while senior setter Allie DiBernardo pulled out 22 digs without a single error on the receiving end.
DiBernardo also had 22 assists, setting up Carpenter and the rest of Villanova's hitters with alarming efficiency. The Wildcats ended up with 38 kills on 35 assists in 118 total attacks, with just 14 errors on the night.
Freshman libero Emmy Friedler made several highlight-reel digs for the Quakers (2-6), never hesitating to get on the floor to keep a point alive. Friedler, a recruit from Illinois, tallied 14 digs, leading the way for Penn's defense.
Junior outside hitter Alexis Genske had a very solid all-around game, racking up 12 kills, eight digs, two block assists and an ace. Freshman outside hitter Aimee Stephenson also turned in a solid performance, slamming down nine kills, bringing the crowd to its feet with a particularly emphatic spike in the hard-fought final set.
Junior Setter Ronnie Bither helped Penn spread the wealth with 19 assists and made her presence felt on the receiving end with seven digs. However, Penn's tall athletic front line would spare Bither and her fellow defenders the trouble of going for the dig on numerous occasions by racking up an impressive seven total team blocks and 14 block assists, besting Nova (8 BAs) in that category by a notable margin.
In the end, Villanova won this game on the strength of their pesky, but at times awe-inspiring style of play. The Wildcats constantly found ways to keep plays alive when the Palestra was convinced the Quakers had the point won. The victors posted 64 digs against just two receiving errors, flustering Penn's top hitters throughout the match.
The first set was intense throughout, with both teams making runs and battling it out during several marathon points. However, a Wildcats serve hit an unsuspecting Penn athlete in the back of the head on set point, giving Villanova the early lead. Nova came out strong in the second set, and held off a late Penn run to take a commanding two-set lead into the intermission.
After the crowd tried their hand at serving during the traditional halftime event, the teams came out of the locker rooms, with the hosts trying to pull off a huge comeback and shock both their opponents and their supporters.
With their backs against the wall, Penn got off to a solid start in the third set. However, Villanova responded quickly and strung together a couple runs, interrupted only briefly by the sinking Quakers.
After Nova seized a 22-15 advantage, it was clear that Penn would need a lot to happen just to stay in the match. Coach Kerry Carr's resilient squad almost pulled it off, closing the gap to three, but in the end, Penn could not pull off the comeback, and Nova closed out the match with a 25-20 victory in the final set.
The Quakers will look to bounce back tomorrow at the Palestra and snap their losing streak when they take on La Salle at 1 p.m. and Temple at 7 p.m. in their final matches before they open Ivy League play against Princeton at home next Friday.
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